The only person I love is myself / by Joseph Palumbo

Imagine a scene in a Hollywood romance movie. The man and woman are staring passionately into each other's eyes, an imminent kiss dangling from their lips. 

The woman gasps, "Oh, Frederick, I love you with all my heart. I've always loved you. Do you love me?"

And Frederick, being the shrewd and honest devil that he is, quips back, "Oh Charlotte, the only person I love is myself." 

Queue the music as it swells over a deep, passionate kiss, the kind where you have to wonder how they can hold their breath for that long. 

Doesn't sound romantic, right? But it is. At least I think it is. 

You see, you have to love yourself. I know that sounds like a cliche. Something you'd read in a lightly Feminist meme posted on single sister-in-law's Facebook feed. But it's true. You need to know who you are, your values. You need to establish what makes you happy. Do this before you even think about getting into a relationship. 

Why? 

Because too many people are waiting for someone to come around and make them happy. The truth is your happiness is far too important to put in someone else's hands. 

My wife and I were talking about relationships the other day, not necessarily ours, just relationships in general. After 22 years together, 12 of which in marriage, we agreed that marriage does NOT make two people into a single entity, as advertised. 

No, just like on that hot and humid day when we got married, we are still very much two separate people, each with our individual tastes, preferences, interests, etc. In fact, due to the demands of marriage and children, I'd hazard to say that we've even grown apart in the last 12 years. Not out of love, just in different directions. 

When we were young and dating we lived together (yes, in sin, if you must call it that). We watched the same TV, always went places together, etc. Besides our individual jobs, our lives were pretty much inseparable, think of our lives like two parallel lines.

Twelve years later we don't get to spend nearly as much time together. We often divide and conquer rather than do everything together. The demands of life have set our lives in non-parallels trajectories. My wife is a stay-at-home Mom and a homeschool teacher and I have excelled at a career that demands much of my time and requires me to travel alone. 

This is not a tragedy. This is life.

Now here's the thing. Sure we still hang out and talk, but not like we used to. So, if I expected my wife to be the sole supplier of my happiness in my life, I'd be miserable right now. If she was the only one capable of loving me, I'd be morose with loneliness.

No, over the years I've figured out how to be my own companion. I've figured out the things I like and what makes me happy. It was a process of trial and error (as proof by the closet full of forgotten hobbies - we all have them). Another way of thinking about this, I learned to love myself. 

I wasn't always like that. I bought into the toxic Hollywood paradigm that symbiosis is a prerequisite for happiness. That we need to pine through our depression at that special someone until they notice us, accept us and make us a complete and happy person. And when, on October 24, 2004, the day after I married my wonderful wife, that sense of wholeness and contentment didn't wash over me like warm salt water, that's when I realized that I was the same miserable person, just with a ring on my finger and a higher insurance premium. 

But with time (and therapy) I've learned that I am solely responsible for the happiness in my life. And more importantly, I'm capable of making myself happy. 

My wife and I take care of each other, love each other, sustain each other in real emotional ways, and there are definitely thing she does which brings me immense joy (scalp massages ftw!), but to burden her with the entirety of my happiness quotient is not at all fair. And vice versa. 

In closing, marriage might have less to do with love and more to do with mutual respect, taking care of each other, having a support system with a partner that you trust. Maybe it's more about supporting one another and giving each other the best counsel. It's not, and never should be, about needing somebody else to make you happy. That's my job, because I don't love anybody as much as I love myself.